In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
In order to give His life as a ransom for many and gain a people for God, Jesus overcame the assaults of the devil. The devil attempted to keep Jesus from offering His life as a ransom, but Jesus was faithful unto death. And so the four living creatures that John saw sing a new song to the Lamb: “You were slaughtered, and by Your blood you purchased [a people] for God from every tribe and language and people and nation” (Revelation 5:9). Jesus did not come on the earth as a man to be served, but to serve, and to give His life as a ransom for many (Matthew 20:28). And Paul makes sure that we do not misunderstand Jesus and think that He is a ransom only for some people, but He is the mediator between God and all people, a ransom for all (1 Timothy 2:6). The One gives His life in place of the many. The contrast is not between “many” and “all,” but between the “many” and the “One.”
But what does it mean that Jesus is a ransom? Is Jesus paying someone? To whom is He paying the price? To God? The devil? We can rule out the devil. Neither we, nor the Father, nor Jesus owe anything to the devil. Jesus is not paying off the devil, as if the devil were holding us for ransom in that sense. Neither is God holding us for ransom. Certainly, the Scriptures picture our sin as a debt that is owed to God. All our sin is a debt we could never pay back. It can only be forgiven, as the King forgives the servant in Matthew 18.
But when God ransoms Israel from Egypt, who pays a price? It’s not Israel, though they are being ransomed. And it’s not God. The price is paid by the firstborn sons of Egypt and the lambs among Israel. It is the lamb who is slaughtered in place of the people, and if any Egyptians believed the promise and put blood on their door-frames, they too would have had been under the ransom blood of those lambs. The lambs die in the place of Israel, just as the ram was slaughtered instead of Isaac.
The ransom for our sin is not paid to, but offered in the place of. Sin and death are going to be eradicated from God’s good creation one way or another. If sin and death are eradicated in us apart from Jesus, that means that we ourselves will be eradicated with them. There would be nothing left of us. “No man can ransom another or give to God the price of his life. For the ransom of their life is costly and can never suffice, that he should live on forever and never see the pit” (Psalm 49:7-9).
But God will ransom my soul from the power of Sheol (Psalm 49:15). He has visited and ransomed His people (Luke 1:68). Jesus has come, who is both the firstborn Son and the spotless Lamb of God. Sin and death do not belong rightfully to Him. So if our sin and death are eradicated in that holy, divine, perfect Body, then sin and death are crucified in flesh that cannot die eternally. He is the Resurrection and the Life, which no death can kill forever. Instead, the sinless One takes the place of the sinful many, and the many dead live through the Living One. Because He has taken your place, your sin and death die in His death, and then His resurrection life is your life. “He entered once for all into the holy places, not by means of the blood of goats and calves but by means of His own blood, thus securing an eternal redemption” (Hebrews 9:12). Neither your blood nor the blood of any sacrifice has eternal life of itself. But the blood of God in flesh does, and therefore His ransom and redemption are eternal.
So our Lenten Proper Preface directs us both backward and forward in time: backward to the One who overcame the assaults of the devil in order to finish His course in death and resurrection, giving His life as a ransom for us, among the many; and forward to the completion of that ransom. We are, even now, “waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to [ransom] us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works” (Titus 2:13-14). He is our joy and hope and confidence because His redemption is an eternal one. He gives it to us when He cleanses and purifies us for Himself, washed with the water of His blood-soaked word. While we wait patiently, He keeps us in that hope as He feeds us with His living flesh and blood, over which sin and death have no power.
With such a hope secured by Jesus, what is there to do but to worship Him with the four living creatures, the angels, and all the saints, and to be zealous for the good works He has prepared for us? He has put in front of us every single day the work He has given us for the sake of our family, church, and community. The one who has given Himself for us has given us to them. It is for them that He gave Himself as well. By His blood, He ransomed them for God. We cannot pay the price of their lives that Jesus has already paid. But we are living sacrifices, poured out on their behalf. By the grace of God in Jesus, together we will see with joy the appearing of our God and Savior.
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen. “And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:7, ESV). Amen.
– Pr. Timothy Winterstein, 3/19/19